For the 800th Post, a Blast from the Past

Hurrah!  And I’m even more delighted by the nearly 18,000 comments you lot have posted since this blog started in the summer of 2010.

I’ve been going back through the archives, five posts a day, to finally fix the tags that got mangled in the Patheos move, and I found a preconversion 7 Quick Takes that I thought would be fun to rerun today.

Take it away, past!Leah…

I started this blog over the summer as a way to try to clarify my thoughts on religion and morality, especially after I started reading Christian apologetics and attending Mass with my Catholic boyfriend.  One hundred and fifty posts later, we’re still surprised by the amount we agree on, even though we still can’t see eye to eye on the Big Question.  While I’ve been trying to thrash it all out, I’ve been grateful for the thoughtful comments, questions, and links you’ve shared with me through this blog.

For today’s Quick Takes (the last of 2010) I’m listing a potporri of things I’ve changed my mind on, posts I’ve promised that I’ll actually write in the New Year, and questions that bother me:

–1–

The first apologetic work I read was C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, and, although I wasn’t converted, it did make a big impression.  Reading Lewis’s writings about morality has helped me try to be better in my day to day life and understand ways in which I was failing others.  My perspective on morality used to be extremely Kantian:

I followed the Golden Rule and anything else that seemed to fall under the purview of the Categorical Imperative in an attitude of pure duty. The primary satisfaction I got from behaving rightly was like the quiet click of a Rubik’s cube sliding through its final sequence or the sound of a pencil being laid down at the end of a proof.

My mistake when I was younger was: in my utter detachment from the people affected by my actions, I was still treating people as things. Instead of ‘ends in themselves’ I treated them as means to an abstracted kind of righteousness for myself, their needs as tasks to be completed.

I’m trying (and frequently failing) to try to approach other people in a spirit of love and charity, rather than duty.  Mere Christianity turned out to be a big help making this change, as well as pointing me towards it.  If I more frequently feel like I’m falling short (especially over this holiday, sadly), at least I’m aware of my mistakes and can make a fumbling attempt at correcting them and mitigating their harm.

–2–

If revising my attitude towards morality is the biggest achievement this year, explaining the foundation of morality is definitely my biggest failure.  The biggest point on which my Catholic boyfriend and I disagree (besides the obvious one) is whether absolute morality is possible in an atheistic universe–and that argument tends to undergird our a/theist disputes.

I took a crack at explaining how I think about absolute morality using metaphors about mathematics and vision.  It didn’t convince my boyfriend or many of you, so I’ll have to figure out a better explanation for next year.

–3–

In the new year, I’m most looking forward to finally writing my defense of covenant marriage.  I haven’t consolidated what I’ve written so far into an index post, so here are quick links to parts one through four which cover my thoughts on what marriage is not, an annotated list of interesting writing on marriage, why I think covenant marriage is a poor fit for Christians, and some remarks on ‘the woman problem.’

I can’t wait to get cracking on this topic after the holidays.

–4–

Although I’m most grateful to Mere Christianity on philosophy questions, Christianity: The First 3000 Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch has been invaluable to be as a history reference.  Among the incorrectbeliefs I had about Christianity and other religions:

  • Mass, in approximately its current form, was instituted around 33AD.  As was the Papacy.
  • The Temple that the Jews hope to one day rebuild never existed and is fictional or metaphorical

Oy.  Thank you Diarmaid!

–5–

The most troubling consequence for me, if Christianity were true, would be the extraordinary number of people who would miss out on any communion with God because atheism is so plausible.  After all, most people haven’t got the leisure time to mount serious philosophical and historical inquiries into other people’s religious beliefs.  I’d be frightened by the prospect of a God that made no provision for the conversion of non-Christians who didn’t study theology.

–6–

The most attractive part of Christianity for me is the possibility of redemption after severe transgressions.  I’ve written before (in the context of the dehumanizing nature of war and combat training) about how immoral actions are like bad habits.  They can make it more difficult to cultivate the kind of open attitude required to treat other people kindly and with charity.  Without the possibility of redemption, people can wound themselves past the point of recovery through their immoral actions.  The damage we inflict upon ourselves could be beyond our own ability or the ability of our friends to mend.

Currently, I don’t think there always is a path back from the abyss, and that fact is the most depressing and upsetting part of my philosophy.  If Christianity were true, I could be relieved on this point..

–7–

And don’t forget, if you want to help dictate my New Year’s Resolutions, there’s still time to contribute suggestions for books I should read, experiences I should seek out, etc at the open thread I put up earlier this week.

Thanks so much.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • Ted Seeber

    A question for your 800th post, because this is the most fascinating part of 21st century theology to me, and is an emerging trend:
    After you read Nostra Aetate, and came to believe in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, did your opinion on #5 and #6 above change?

  • jenesaispas

    “I’ve written before (in the context of the dehumanizing nature of war and combat training) about how immoral actions are like bad habits. They can make it more difficult to cultivate the kind of open attitude required to treat other people kindly and with charity. ”

    Weren’t you just saying that a few days ago? Funny.

    Anyway, long live Leah Libresco’s Blog! (and Leah and everyone else too:)

  • Fred

    @ Leah. Regarding quick take 1, what are you doing differently now?

  • Mitchell Porter

    I have paid no attention to the online culture war between atheism and religion, so the first I heard of this blog was when an anxious post appeared on Less Wrong saying “my friend is about to become a Catholic, is there some way I can stop this?” Leah turned out to be exceptionally interesting, but from the beginning I’ve been urging her to consider a third way, beyond science as we know it and religion as we know it. My “problem with science” is not really with science as such, but with belief in a certain image of the world, even when it conflicts with experience; a caricature can be seen in the character of Augustus Frost from “That Hideous Strength”, who disbelieves in consciousness because he believes only in atoms. That’s rare and extreme; most materialists are really “property dualists” when it comes to the mind, believing that the experience of life is “how it feels” to be a certain congeries of atoms, ignoring the fact that no such property as “how it feels” is part of physics; and often, usually, there is some modesty and uncertainty about the topic of consciousness. Most such people acknowledge that they don’t really understand how or why the brain is conscious. But they do assume that it’s nothing special compared to a computer, so computers can also be conscious; and here we can see all sorts of very 21st-century techno-fanaticisms brewing, or already on the march.

    The problems with religion are more familiar, but following Leah’s investigations for a few months has helped me to crystallize them. They boil down to the problem of evil, or simply the problem of extreme, gratuitous suffering, for belief in a benevolent god. The limited nature of human knowledge makes many things possible “for all we know”, including but not limited to an afterlife, an anthropomorphic creator, and a divine purpose to history. But the type of theology preferred by contemporary human beings is a belief akin to 2+2=5, and it survives only because it caters to human hope for a happy ending, not to human reason. It is possible to creatively defend the assertion that 2+2=5 – if it appears otherwise, it’s because our minds are being selectively occluded; and the apparent empirical successes of 2+2=4 are really due to other causes – and it is also possible to creatively defend the assertion that God is good, in a way that humans could appreciate, and yet is also all-powerful, and thus knowingly responsible for every bad thing that ever happened. But I do not see a reason why I should bother trying to rationalize either such belief.

    If I feel compelled to console myself with belief in a happy ending, I would prefer to contrive a speculation of my own, with more inner logic to it, than this belief in a benevolent divine torturer. And even more, I would prefer to arrive at a conception of the world governed by probability of being true, and then determine what actions are consistent with that conception. But I acknowledge that it takes a certain amount of energy and freedom to make that effort. If you are tied to the sinking ship of your body and your life, with nothing around you but a watery desert and circling sharks, then it is a small and mysterious mercy to even be able to conceive of some other friendlier reality, and to counterpose it to the one that you are seeing. Those who are in a more fortunate position, however, should be braver, and try to see things as they are, even if that implies that all established blocs of opinion are wrong.

    • TerryC

      The Christian God is definitely not an anthropomorphic creator. Nor is He responsible for evil, which is the rejection of His will. Being all powerful is not the same as being compelled to use that power. Could God stop all evil? Of course. As you say 2+2=4. It is God’s choice not to. It comes down to the mater of free will. If God were to compel the universe to behave as if there were no consequence for an individual’s actions then indeed 2+2 would = 5. But that is not how it works. Consequences are the result of free will on the one hand and false expectations on the other. If a person chooses to commit an evil act it is that person’s exercise of free will which permits that act. God could foil that consequence, and sometimes does in the extreme, but choses not to act by eliminating the initial evil act, because to do so would invalidate the persons free will.
      You might ask what of evil acts which are not of human origin. I would maintain that there are not such acts. Bad things happen to good people, but “bad” in this case is a subjective human term. The death of a loved one is bad in out lights because it causes us suffering. However if that loved one has moved on to the beatific vision has the result been bad for them? The false expectation is that because I am suffering God is not benevolent.
      Happy endings are only a consequence of Christianity for those who live a moral life. Certainly Christianity does not promise a happy life, if happy is defined as an absence of persecution, trials, pain and death. Quite the opposite. Rejection of God, or in the broader sense rejection of a moral life in conformance to God’s will, is rewarded with anything but a happy ending.
      Finally as a revealed religion, as is Judaism, Christianity is not based on some limited “for all we know” rationalism, but rather a rational integration of perceived worldly knowledge informed by divine revelation.

      • Alan

        Yeah, a God who takes the form of a man has no anthropomorphic characteristics at all…

      • texas+ranger

        “The Christian God is definitely not an anthropomorphic creator. Nor is He responsible for evil, which is the rejection of His will. ”

        “God” maybe not, but christian idea of God is certainly antropomorphic. And he is responsible for everything, he is everywhere and creates everything, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.”. People can’t “create” anything even by rejecting God, this is just cutting on God’s allmighty’ness.

    • Ted Seeber

      ” But they do assume that it’s nothing special compared to a computer, so computers can also be conscious; and here we can see all sorts of very 21st-century techno-fanaticisms brewing, or already on the march.”

      Why does this remind me of the pro-homosexual Futurama episode, Proposition Infinity?

    • Ted Seeber

      ” and it is also possible to creatively defend the assertion that God is good, in a way that humans could appreciate, and yet is also all-powerful, and thus knowingly responsible for every bad thing that ever happened. But I do not see a reason why I should bother trying to rationalize either such belief.”

      Catholicism actually says that the two are not compatible. God is Good, yes, and also Omniscient if not Omnipotent; and is rational- but nobody has ever claimed He is Understandable.

      We have finite brains. He’s an infinite transcendent being greater than the sum total of the multiverse. There’s a significant scaling problem involved in pondering the problem of good and evil on that scale; one that our brains are simply *NOT* capable of breaching (reaching from the other side is possible however, and in fact, Catholicism is built upon the historical fact of such an attempt- but is nowhere near done analyzing the data from that attempt yet, let alone claiming to UNDERSTAND!)

    • Ted Seeber

      And finally my third response- I consider this American cultural obsession with happiness to be a fallacy in and of itself. I don’t know of any religion that promises happiness. Acceptance and joy are not happiness and never will be- in fact if anything, moral acceptance of objective morality will always end in persecution.

  • deiseach

    Here’s to the next 800! Ad multos annos!

  • Robbie Young

    Hi Leah
    Thanks for your interesting blogs. Two books which I found to be interesting on the faith-reason thing are: Eric Voegelin: Published Essays 1966-1985, Louisiana State University Press, 1990
    Soren Kierkegaard: Concluding Unscientific Postscript.

    Best wishes

    Robbie

  • http://diabeticbirth.blogspot.com Beth Turner

    “The most troubling consequence for me, if Christianity were true, would be the extraordinary number of people who would miss out on any communion with God because atheism is so plausible. After all, most people haven’t got the leisure time to mount serious philosophical and historical inquiries into other people’s religious beliefs. I’d be frightened by the prospect of a God that made no provision for the conversion of non-Christians who didn’t study theology.”

    I recently picked up a book titled “Will Many Be Saved?” by Ralph Martin, which addresses this problem. It’s an exposition of Vatican II teaching on salvation within and outside the Church, and it’s been praised by a number of the American archbishops and cardinals.

  • Pingback: If only I could throw dinner parties for semi-fictional characters…


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